Whether Spring is upon us or not in the United States, stores are stocking up on chicks and mail order companies have their incubators on full-blast.
Perhaps you have even starting trying to choose a chicken breed!
If you have never ordered day-old chicks before, or purchased them from a store or local breeder, please take the time to consider something.
Day-old chicks are not like adopting a puppy. When you adopt a puppy you are going to go to first select the puppy and then go choose out the best collar, bed, bowls and so on for your new family member.
With baby chickens it is exactly the opposite. The details must come first!
Mail Order Chickens
Mail ordering the chicks is the most time critical situation. These helpless little ones were shipped with nothing more than the yolk they consumed before they hatched in their bellies. They are cold, hungry and scared.
When you mail order chickens the hatchery will tell you when they will be arrive. YOU should drive to your local Post Office and tell the person there that you are expecting chickens to arrive on that day.
While the shipping label should have your number on the label, the Post Office may ask you for your phone number so they can be sure to reach you. Do not expect your mail carrier to deliver them. Your chicks should not have to wait so long.
This will also help you know when to expect the phone call that your chickens have arrived. The truck arrives long before the open hours of the Post Office and they will want to get your chicks to you as soon as possible!
Be sure to check out the video below about mail order chicks. The Post Master even let us film us opening up the box for the first time!
Locally Purchased Chicks
These chickens may have already been hatched for a few days and are already accustomed to drinking water and eating chicken starter feed/mash. That is a plus for you – but it does not mean that you should not already have their brooder set up at home.
Purchasing your chicks locally may limit your selection, but if it is from a local breeder then you are doing a lot of good to support local farming, and that is a huge plus!
Preparing for Chicks: The Brooder
YOU need 3 basic elements to live: Shelter, Food and Water. It is no different with your chicks. Just like you their shelter is important and needs to meet some basic criteria.
There certainly can be a BAD brooder. We have experienced that first hand. Thankfully we had some good people to call on to ask for a little advice. It may seem simple or perhaps even obvious, but here are some tips to avoid common issues:
- Avoid containers with 90 degree corners if possible: The chicks like to find corners and then pile up on each other, causing deaths by trampling. We are currently using a galvanized stock tank.
- Toss out the thermometer: The chicks will tell you how comfortable they are. If they huddle directly under the light then they are cold, if they make a perfect circle around the light then the light is too hot. If they are all over the brooder and occasionally bask in the light, they are as happy as they can be.
- Use pine shavings and avoid cedar: Using pine shavings makes for happy little chicks. The pen stays clean and they get to do their natural behavior of scratching to find food (because they will spill it everywhere!). Do not think you are upgrading by getting cedar. Cedar may smell nice to you, but your sensitive little chicks have to breathe that and it is not good for them.
- Control the air flow: YOU might shudder when a door is opened and a breeze comes in. Your chicks are just as sensitive. Up your odds of raising your birds successfully by having a brooder with enclosed sides.
There are surely a lot of other good nuggets of advice for you to absorb from others who have raised chicks. However, these tips give you a great starting point to help take care of the majority of issues people have when raising chicks.
Heat & Light
We use a simple reflector clamp light with a 150 Watt utility bulb. Be careful. You must have an incandescent bulb that creates heat. A Compact Florescent or Halogen will not warm your birds. You are more interested in the warmth than you are the light itself.
If you have a hard time locating one, ask an employee. They should be easy to find at farm co-ops as well as hardware stores. The key word is “Utility” bulb.
Food & Water
We use chicken starter that is not medicated, and recommend that you do as well. It may be a simple personal preference, and I cannot cite you a list of scientific reasons to avoid medicated chick starter, but I would still avoid it.
Simple tap water is fine for your chicks. You need not over complicate this.
How often you need to check your food and water will vary, but to provide you with an example we are currently raising 30 chicks using 2 feeders and 2 waterers. At first the waterers need filling every other day and the feeders once per day.
Obviously that will become more frequent as they grow and require more food and water.
The Perfect System
While we could make you some great recommendations on how to set up your brooder the simple fact remains that there are plenty of happy and healthy chicks being raised in large cardboard boxes.
It is up to you how “fancy” of a system you provide. A fancier system may help you have less loss, but perhaps the cost of the extra setup is not worth the cost of a few birds. The choice is yours alone.
Buying Mail Order Chicks
Not being a world traveler, I was surprised to learn that not a lot of areas have mail order poultry. If you live in the USA then I can assure you that you can mail order your chickens.
If you have never done that and would like to see exactly how that happens, check out these videos (The video is a playlist and has multiple videos inside of it):